Eternal vigilance

I have been pointed at China’s Social Credit Scoring plans via two routes. The first is this extract published at Wired from Rachel Botsman’s book, “Who can we trust”. This details the Chinese Governments plan to build a social credit scoring scheme, but the sources and incentives are horrendously comprehensive, including their leading match making agency. (It’s taken me some time to read this article, an I have bookmarked and annotated it in my diigo feed.) Worrying things about the Chinese scheme is that voluntary participation becomes mandatory; while rewards and incentives are at the forefront of everyone’s mind today, control and punishment is planned, in the Chinese case in the short term they are talking about foreign and domestic travel restrictions but as I note, the countries leading dating agency is one of the surveillance agencies. There is also talk of social investment loans (helicopter money) which become available on the basis of social scores.

The second route was an article on Medium by someone who got banned from AirBnB. He pointed at an article on Buzzfeed, “A Chinese-Style Digital Dystopia Isn’t As Far Away As We Think” where a series of regulatory decisions in the USA seem to be paving the way to something similar, a powerful illustration that the argument that surveillance is OK if it’s private sector is horrendously false.

One worrying aspect of the proposed Chinese system is that your reputation is as good as that of your friends and we have idiots trying to replicate it with peeple, and reading up on that has started me worrying about Linkedin and its competitors and we all know we should get off facebook.

The wired article came before machine learning and massive scale AI became a hot topic, but it’ll be interesting to see what happens to social credit scores when they let rip with the application of machine learning. The automated derivation of reputation scores also raises issues of safeguarding, libel and context. Safeguarding and libel laws require the machines to tell the truth, in fact safeguarding may require machines to hide the truth. Context requires a level of nuance that we are unsure if machines will ever have, but even if they get there, justice and judges must remain human and the code must be open; China’s & Facebook’s is not!. The GDPR gives data subjects rights, perhaps its time to revisit the seven principles.

Of course in the UK, we have our very own examples of machines and data sharing getting it wrong. Sajid Javid, the Home Secretary has suspended the intra-government and some of the other immigration data sharing as a result of the backlash on the Windrush scandal. (I wonder if this I an excuse to look again at the DPA Immigration Exemption clauses.) Much of what is happening in China and the USA is also happening in the UK, it’s just that the surveillance agents are the US owned datenkraken and the British State have legalised the hacking of their data streams.

What’s happening in China is terrible, but our governments are following suit! The price of freedom is eternal vigilance. …

Web Blocking in the UK

Web Blocking in the UK

An internet safe for kids, plebs and Tories

The phone companies’ Tory inspired “safe content” filters are coming online. While the road to and strong arming of the ISPs into voluntary agreement was well covered over the summer, although not be me, it seemed the Surveillance stories were more important, the New Statesman in an article published last week by Martin Robbins, entitled “Cameron’s internet filter goes far beyond porn – and that was always the plan” shows the bleeding obvious that it’s not possible to build “safe” filters for other people. The article has provoked some noise on twitter since these privately implemented filters are a non-accountable overreach, there is no appeal, no democratic oversight and they are implemented using crude ineffective technology which reinforces such overreach. Taken in conjunction with the Gagging Bill, also known as the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill currently going through Parliament, this should be seen as an attack on our democratic systems in that it will deprive citizens of the information and evidence that they need to vote. …

HMV, a tale of hubris, tax and monopoly

HMV, the UK’s leading bricks & mortar creative industries retailer has gone into administration. Lets hope that its winding up is not as brutal as at Jessops which also failed last week. The FT reports in an article, published yesterday, entitled, HMV calls in the Administrators that the rug was pulled when their suppliers of the music, films and computer/console games refused to extend credit terms to allow them to refinance their debt. …

Search Neutrality goes to Parliament

Earlier this week I attended the @pictfor meeting advertised as about “Search Neutrality”. It had entered my radar when Alec Muffett who had been invited to speak, announced his attendance on twitter and his Computer World blog, “The Google Dialogues : Search Neutrality”. The speakers were Alec, and Shivaun Raff, the CEO of Foundem and Mark Margaretten, Professor at U. of Bedford. Foundem is one of the complaintants to the EU provoking an EU monopoly investigation into Google. This is covered in the Guardian, on the 20th November, in an article called “Google search investigation sparked by complaint from British site”.

Shivaun argued that Google manipulates its sort order to benefit its own alternative properties, particularly the price comparison sites. (Foundem is a vertical price comparison site.) They argue that over 90% of European search is fulfilled by Google, and that when Google chose to discriminate against them, their traffic fell off to a business breaking trickle.

Alec and Mark took a similar line to each other, Google is one click away from failure, relevance including sort order is subject to competitive pressure & no-one has a right to a place in a search engine’s sort order. Alec in his blog post points at James Grimelmann’s article,“Some Skepticism about Search Neutrality” who makes similar points, although Grimmelmann argues that vertical search sites are rarely useful or usable. Margaretten dealt with this less judgmentally by pointing out that Google also prefers sites with original content, which is why aggregator sites do less well. He reinforced the point that there are good reasons to devalue vertical search sites, although Foundem can prove that they were specifically penalised. Grimmelman distinguishes between regulating for “Search Neutrality” which he opposes and anti-trust law which he argues is different and has its own theory and practice. The meeting missed this dichotomy between monopoly regulation and search neutrality.

Shivaun Raff was backed up by a spokesperson from Streetmap, who provided some evidence that Google had manipulated their sort order when they launched Google maps in order to better compete with the established players. I hope that they have made a submission to the Commission. The talk in the bar after was that streetmap lost out due to Google Maps technical superiority particularly features such as navigation, user generated content, personal customisation and world wide coverage; however even if this is true it doesn’t necessarily mean that the allegation of malicious action is unjustified.

I’ll be interested to see if the Commission come to consider Google to be a monopoly. It dominates in search, and its maps and mail are wildly popular but it’s definitely second choice for microblogging (g+) where it’s outgunned by twitter and facebook, identity assurance where Google Profile trails behind twitter and facebook, picture blogging (Yahoo), bookmarks (delicious and reddit) and blogging (wordpress). It’s interesting to consider this in the light of some changes made by google to their user experience over the last couple of months where they are staring to build walls around their services to make it harder to share one’s data with other companies services. For instance, they have wrecked Google Reader for me since I can now only share news via Google+, there is now no open XML feed for these. I’ll explore this in another post soon. …

Music Copyright, Qui Bono?

The Register today comments on whether Vivendi might buy EMI. They don’t seem that interested but they point at a story that EMI had passed into the hands of Citigroup, which I had missed. They are no longer a public company and certainly not in the FTSE any more.

This is important, since according to Wikipedia’s Music Industry page, albeit in 2005, EMI sold ~13% of the world’s traded music.(The market is dominated (72%) by four companies, the other three of which are Universal, owned by Vivendi, a French company, Sony, ultimately a Japanese company and Warner Music, a US based company.)

World music sales, 2005. Source: Wikipedia.

They were the only UK company in this list. (I think we can see where I am going with this). The world’s law makers are passing laws, such as the UK’s Digital Economy Act against the interests of their voters, and in the interests of four companies. In the case of the UK lawmakers, none of these companies are now UK quoted. Just whose jobs and prosperity are they protecting?

Why are we doing this again?

Wikipedia also has a page called Global Music Market Share, which might shed some light on today’s numbers. …

Free, the right price for software

Economic systems are about how to use scarce resources and the Price Mechanism is the way in which a optimal resource allocation occurs. Economists use a branch of theory called “Welfare Economics” to analyse and model the efficiency of the productive economy, and a theoretically maximally efficient set of states can be defined within a model, known as the Pareto-efficiency frontier. A perfectly competitive market meets the efficiency requirements, imperfect or distorted markets do not. Distortions can be caused by the existence of monopolistic markets, taxation, externalities or missing markets. …

Monopoly and prices

Monopolies restrict supply and offer their goods at prices above equilibrium price, the opportunity cost of the resources used to make the goods. I am writing a short paper about this since it is a piece of thinking I revisited while developing my thoughts on free software, but is not central to those thoughts. There remain those who still think that monopolistic domination of markets is a legitimate business goal and that public policy and regulation should not inhibit this “free” market tendency. A review of the theory of the firm shows that monopolies restrict supply, raise prices and make super-profits. …